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City responds to criticism over directive to cut fire dept. st

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

In a Monday interview, Clarksburg City Manager Tom Vidovich and Council members Becky Lake and Sam Lopez defended an Oct. 25 directive to reduce the minimum staff requirement for shifts at the fire department from 11 to 10.

Vidovich issued the directive after council members decided at an Oct. 19 conference session to defer the matter to his discretion. Mayor David Kates and Councilman Jim Hunt were not present for that session.

The directive has been criticized by Fire Chief Rick Scott, who contends it could hurt public safety because firefighters are spread too thinly.

Council member Lake said reducing the minimum does not constitute a cut in staffing levels.

"The way I understand the order, we are not cutting firemen," Lake said. "If 11 people show up, 11 people will work. The mandate is that if there is an absence, the chief is not to immediately call someone in. No shift is to run with less than 10."

Scott was unavailable for comment Monday. However, he said Friday that on any given shift, it is likely for one or two firefighters to be off due to illness, injury or a death in the family. That would take shift staff to the minimum, he said.

"We can't safely cover a city this size with 10 people," Scott said Friday. He cited a National Fire Protection Association standard of 14 firefighters for a first alarm response.

He added that city firefighters are stretched because they cover several schools and the FBI Center, as well as responding to auto accidents with reported injuries.

Vidovich said the fire chief could still call in as many firefighters as necessary in the event of an emergency. Lake said cutting the minimum staff level is necessary to keep the department within its overtime budget.

As of Oct. 26, the department had 861 hours of overtime, costing more than $11,000, for the Anchor Hocking fire alone.

While the city will be reimbursed by insurance carriers, it cannot wait for reimbursement before paying firefighters, Lake said.

"It was unforeseen, but those are things we have to work with," she said.

Vidovich added that as of Oct. 23, the fire department had already spent 54 percent of its overtime budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. He also said he would be receptive to alternative plans to deal with overtime expenditures in the fire department.

Lake and Lopez added they were comfortable in leaving the matter to Vidovich.

"We are paying our city manager to make these managerial decisions," Lopez said.

Staff Writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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